Long ignored man overboard safety and rescue is finally in good hands but uniformity and rescue-minded approach are key to put the industry on the right path, writes IHS Maritime’s Veronika Farkas.
– Clear standards and realistic goals would enhance MOB rescue operations
– Change in attitude needed to educate crews towards ‘rescue-minded’ thinking
It will be a year beginning July 2015 since the new SOLAS requirements concerning the recovery of persons from the water (SOLAS regulation III/17-1) entered into force and kicked off a long-awaited discussion around man overboard (MOB) prevention and recovery in industry circles. This regulation applies to all SOLAS ships built on or after 1 July 2014 and to existing ships by the first periodical or renewal safety equipment survey after the 1 July 2014 deadline. Its intention is to introduce ship-specific plans and procedures for the recovery of persons from the water, identifying the equipment intended to be used for recovery purposes and measures to be taken in order to minimise the risk to shipboard personnel involved in recovery operations.
Call for specific standards
Going forward, on the back of this requirement, defining industry specific standards are crucial to help shippers gearing up for MOB emergency situations appropriately. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) together with industry experts are currently working on the finishing touches of such a standardisation document to assist in the unified interpretation of requirements. This work will concentrate on defining quality, performance, and test requirements of various means and techniques to recover persons from the water to enable type approval for such dedicated equipment. The finalised standard is expected to be published in late 2015.
Pétur Th. Pétursson, managing director of Markus Lifenet, has been heavily involved in the regulatory process and being the project leader of the ISO standard currently being developed, explained to Safety at Sea that “what is needed both for the administrations and for notifying bodies is a standard to work by” to know what requirements the recovery equipment has to have. The uniformity these standards are about to bring is essential to create a common understanding and interpretation of rules among stakeholders.
Holistic approach in rescue
What is further needed is a comprehensive approach to the whole subject of recovering people from water. Pétursson added that this is a big and complex subject that “has not been really addressed for commercial ships” to date; “it is so new to everyone”. Benny Carlsen, vice president at Viking Life-Saving Equipment for the northeast region also sees little improvement over the years when it comes to MOB safety and rescue operations on ordinary cargo vessels, especially for recovering people from the water.
He says, “You can argue that there are indirect improvements to this subject through a variety of regulations over the years.” For instance, when carrying immersion suits for all crew members became mandatory on vessels, it enabled a safer working environment. Should the crew need to leave the ship, for example, there is always a risk of a MOB situation but with this equipment “your chance of survival significantly increases, especially in cold water”. This, however, does not directly help the physical recovery of people from water.
Other developments which made regular service of the launching equipment for lifeboats and rescue boats mandatory has also enhanced safety and MOB response. “Before these regulations came into force, people did not really manoeuvre the equipment so, in the event of an emergency, they found that the equipment did not function,” said Carlsen. He further added that deploying a rescue boat in harsh sea conditions is not easy and is something which needs to be trained for. “The regulation not only needs to make sure that the equipment works, but also that regular training is carried out to ease its use when it comes to real emergency,” he continued.
The bottom line is that each ship is different according to the cargo they carry, which in turn also reflects diverse trading areas. Possible emergency situations may widely differ too, especially when the ever-busier mass rescue arena – such as the Mediterranean – puts enormous pressure on commercial shipping. In Pétursson’s view, equipment manufacturers should be able to offer a variety of recovery systems to address a wide range of ship types and situations. He said, “Some [vessels] may just simply need a manually operated equipment to be able to recover people from water” effectively, others may need a more sophisticated system.
Exhaustion and panic in an emergency, coupled with bad weather conditions, have indeed a significant impact on operations so rescue is also “about the whole concept of how to save people” under a variety of conditions.
“The challenge has always been how to safely recover the person who has fallen overboard and how to provide prompt medical aid that may be required, so as to effect a successful rescue operation,” said Nigel Cleave, CEO of Videotel. The company’s training programme, for instance, ‘Man overboard’, has been updated so that it meets the training requirements related to the new regulation on the ‘Recovery of persons from the water’ effective 1 July 2014. Training is certainly a continuous process and just completing a survival training course ashore, does not guarantee success in recovering people. “Continuous practice, practice, and more practice is what is required in order to become proficient,” said Cleave. In his view, one of the most effective training methods is when the drills are blended with training aids such as videos, coupled with a debriefing session and/or a question-and-answer session as described in workbooks. “The objective of training should be such that, when it comes to a real situation, the response is fast and effective.”
Education on recovering people from water, however, has to step up to a whole new level. Training schools today only teach what the regulatory framework requires but what is “really needed is guidelines on different rescue operations”, said Pétursson.
He suggested the creation of a comprehensive and forward-thinking training attitude, rather than a reactive approach, is desirable when using the now-required relevant risk assessment. This assessment should build on the basics, considering all possible risks on board ships during general work and not only mass rescue situations, he added. When talking about risk assessment, “I would like to think that this is a risk assessment for MOB recovery in any case and for any [type of] risk on board the ship,” he said. Starting from the basics, one has to first “build up understanding and ‘rescue thinking’ on board ordinary cargo ships for [being able to help] themselves and their guests on board”, he noted, before meeting obligations to help people in large scale rescue operations. It is therefore vital that training and education on recovery of people from water is taken seriously, to enable a build-up of solid rescue knowledge. “Without applying rescue thinking on vessels, we will not achieve very much. What we will achieve is to have the equipment on board without knowing how to use it appropriately,” Pétursson continued. The danger is that crews may limit themselves in being able to use the equipment properly even if shipping companies invest in the right rescue tools.
The way forward
Rescue thinking is also expected to enhance safety further as experts consider it as a key enabler to build a coherent team on board with a significantly increased safety consciousness.
The finalised standard being published later in 2015 had some challenges in the final stages. Pétursson also explained to Safety at Sea that some initial ideas did not made it beyond the drawing board. For instance, at least at this stage, the final draft will not consider the ‘human element’, such as safety and rescue training of seafarers, but primarily concentrates on the function and quality of the equipment. It is still a big achievement though, and a year on from the SOLAS regulation taking effect, there is still more room for improvement. Thorough discussion needs to continue on how the industry is going to progress best in the next 5–10 years in this area. The next decade will be extremely important in this field, said Pétursson. “I hope I will be able to participate in that discussion,” he said. “The ideal long-term intention is to provide the crew and the shipping company [with] a selection of capabilities [to rescue people from the sea] which fit the vessel, operation environment, and the number of crew. This would enable them to choose a capability and develop themselves to that standard on board their ships,” said Pétursson. Rescue thinking is a key issue in this development. Experts also anticipate that plenty of opportunities lie ahead for companies to enter this market as technology develops.